January 14, 2019

Statement of Bob Carlson, ABA president Re: Changes to the Hungarian Court System

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2019 — The American Bar Association is concerned that Hungary’s creation of a parallel court system overseen by a politically appointed justice minister threatens to further erode that country’s judicial independence. The independence of the Hungarian legal system has been undermined by the Hungarian Parliament’s Dec. 12, 2018, decision to remove matters involving elections, taxation, the police and public institutions from the Supreme Court’s oversight of public administration law and to delegate responsibilities for those matters to a new court system overseen by the justice minister.

Absent a guarantee of autonomy and independence, transferring key public administration decisions from the courts to a separate administrative judiciary threatens judicial independence in Hungary. The formation of the new court system, which will start hearing cases in 2020, violates Hungary’s commitment to an independent judiciary, as reflected in its agreement to adhere to the U.N.’s Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary. Granting a political appointee authority over hiring, promoting and disciplining judges effectively gives him authority over rulings on protests, strikes, data privacy, construction and more—issues that are no longer under the supervision of the Supreme Court.

The strength of any democracy rests on the ability of its judges to impartially interpret and apply the law. As a central component of the rule of law in any country, the judiciary must be independent of political influence, free from interference from other branches of government and tasked with equitably applying the law in all matters.

The ABA urges the government of Hungary to respect its obligations to the rule of law, to halt its efforts to create a parallel, politically controlled court system and to restore to the Supreme Court oversight of the public administrative court system.

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